“One of the saddest features of modern life in the western world is the fragmentation of the family unit. The quality of family ‘togetherness’ with mutual love, loyalty and respect, which was such a delightful quality of life some years ago, has almost disappeared. Unfortunately many Christian families have also become victims of these modern phenomena.
When my wife and I lived in Israel, we noticed that this was not the case with most Jewish families. They have retained family links, despite the onslaught of modern stress factors, which have torn other families apart. Why is this? We reached the conclusion that the weekly Sabbath (Shabbat) Meal is one obvious factor, which has helped preserve family unity.
The beautiful family gatherings, which are treasured every Friday evening, become a powerful focal point of fellowship. Every family member endeavors to be present. Very often several generations are represented. It is a time when one’s elders are shown respect and reverence and all the family members are able to share in a delightful meal, stimulating conversation and good clean fun.” (Pastor Gerald Rowlands in Above Rubies 1989, No. 33)
We eat as a family every day, usually every meal. This is partly due, of course, to all of our children still being young (the oldest is 11). But, in good portion this is because being together is one of our values. We have made a deliberate choice to make our lives home-centric. My husband runs his own business and many times works from home. When I teach childbirth classes (which is not all the time, but sometimes) it is from home. We homebirth. We homeschool. We try not to be gone from the house more than twice, or at the most three days, a week–including church! The other five days a week we are home all day.
So, eating together is nothing new for us. We all sit down with a properly set table three meals a day. We say grace together, we eat, we read a passage of Scripture and we close our time praying again. So, when Nancy Campbell did a session at the Reformation of Food and The Family Conference on The Family Feast: How To Transform Meal Time Into A Feast For Body, Soul, and Spirit, I honestly did not expect to be so completely convicted and challenged to the degree I was. To say I was moved is an understatement.
Thank you God, for the food before us, the friends beside us and the love between us. Amen.
Among a host of inspirational things she shared in that session, was a bit about her family’s Shabbat meal every Friday evening. She states without apology that “Meal time is the most powerful time of the day!”
I listened carefully, took copious notes, and have already instituted a Shabbat meal into our weekly rhythms. Mind you, we do it on Saturday evening, rather than Friday evening. This is a matter of preference, because we strive to take Sunday as our day of rest. Allow me to share how this has worked for us:
On Saturday morning I start the troops off with a hearty breakfast! Then we set to work. I set out cards with chores listed and everyone from Daddy and Mommy to the three year old work together! (The baby gets a pass. *smile*) We clean the house top-to-bottom. The floors all get swept and mopped. The bathrooms get a good thorough cleaning. Sheets are changed. Inside windows wiped clean of children’s fingerprints. Even the dog gets a washing and brushing. Yes, sirree!
If we all work diligently and without distraction we are pretty much done by lunch time. (Isn’t that beautiful?!) After lunch the little ones go down for their regular nap time. And the big ones help me in the kitchen. We not only have to prepare special dishes for the Shabbat Meal, but we also need to prepare food for Sunday. By Saturday at Sunset we are ready to completely rest until Sunday at Sunset! The house is clean and food is prepared!
Meg (my 11 year old daughter) has been my dedicated Challah maker. We also need to prep main dishes and desserts! It’s a hoot being in the kitchen with my kids! We make messes, sure. But, they are also learning to honor tradition, food, and work. All lessons you can only truly learn by doing.
Israel (my 10 year old son) has been my table setter and arranger. He has a gift for making things beautiful and pleasant to behold. He gets it from his Daddy. He sets the table, arranges the flowers, brings in the necessary chairs.
“You shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.” Deuteronomy 14:26b
When we are done cooking, we all change clothes. We don’t necessarily dress-up (although some of the kids do, simply because they love to use their dress clothes) but we are all clean and tidy for dinner. Hey, I even put on some jewelry and do my make-up!
When you choose to have your Shabbat Meal is up to you. It can be Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday afternoon, etc. The important thing is that it signals a time of rest from your labors. So, if you are doing it Sunday afternoon, make sure you choose a meal you can prepare on Saturday that reheats easily (and without drying out!) on Sunday.
The meal, I think, should be served in courses, so that you take your time eating it. We have been doing the first course of bread (with hummus, butter, cheese) and wine, the second course of our main food, the third course of fruit and cheese, and the final course of dessert. Each course is brought out from the kitchen, beautifully plated or in our best serving bowls. It is something outside of our ordinary fare and everyone waits until everyone else is served before diving in!The Rituals
The meal begins with me lighting the candles. Do you know why this is important? Because a woman, Mary, brought the Light, Jesus, into the world. In traditional Jewish Shabbats there are two candles representing Creation and Redemption or Remember and Observe. My candelabra has three candles in it. The kids say this stands for The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.
Then Gana reads Proverbs 31 aloud as a way to honor me. Then he speaks a word of blessing over me and the children. Then I speak a word of blessing back to Gana. It’s good for children to hear their parents blessing and encouraging each other. In our world of sarcasm, it’s good to “come in the opposite spirit” and speak words of blessings.
“Shabbat opens the atmosphere.” -Nancy Campbell
Then it’s time for the bread and wine (juice for the children). The bread, as I’ve mentioned, is Challah, which is traditional. And we serve two loaves. This represents the double portion the Lord provided for His people before the Sabbath. In the wilderness, on the sixth day they had to gather a double portion, so that the Sabbath was a day of rest.
Instead of shame and dishonor, you will enjoy a double share of honor. You will possess a double portion of prosperity in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours. Isaiah 61:7
We each break off a piece of this bread and say together, “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe,who brings forth for us the fruit of the earth!” Then we all lift our glasses and say, “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates for us the fruit of the vine!” Then we all enjoy the bread (and the hummus, butter, cheese, etc.) and wine for a while. I’ll say it again, WE TAKE OUR TIME! What’s the hurry?! This is what is signalling the beginning of our REST! Why rush through it?
When we are done the bread and plates are cleared away (the kids each take a turn helping me do this) and the next course is served. When each course is done, the dishes are cleared away and the new food brought out.We close our time in prayer of thanksgiving for all of God’s provision for us!
“Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. These are the LORD’s appointed festivals, which you are to proclaim as official days for holy assembly. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of complete rest, an official day for holy assembly. It is the LORD’s Sabbath day, and it must be observed wherever you live.” Leviticus 23:2-3
Things to have on hand:
1. Candlesticks and candles
2. A white tablecloth and cloth napkins
3. Wine and/or grape juice
4. Two loaves of bread, preferably Challah.
5. Fresh flowers (If our yard isn’t currently producing many flowers, I pick up some at Farmer’s Market on Friday evening.)
6. Your Bible for the reading of Proverbs 31.
7. Lovely music to set the tone.
8. A heart at rest in Him.
(Linked to Frugal Days Sustainable Ways)